DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Makaha Elementary School's Recess Activities Program to get students active at recess has also served to reduce misbehavior. "Junior leaders" Michiko Hatori-Whitney, Kayla Kaiwi, Michael Gooch and Tony Akuna help set up some activities.
Recess is becoming an effective learning tool
Long before the first bell at Kahuku Elementary School, students stream onto campus, drop their backpacks and head straight for the grassy field to log laps, just for fun.
"When we started, it actually was a walking challenge, but our students, they wanted to run," said Sam Izumi, vice principal. "We never imagined the program to be this successful this fast."
With academic pressures sharpening and students getting antsy, some public elementary schools are squeezing in exercise whenever they can. And they are finding that it pays off with happier, healthier and more focused kids.
At Makaha Elementary School, recess has been expanded into a kind of field day, with kids dancing in the sunshine, chasing a giant Frisbee or shooting hoops to earn incentive beads. The students get to have fun with the administrative staff every day, instead of meeting just when they're sent to the school office.
Since the Recess Activities Program started last year, discipline referrals on the playground have plunged 80 percent and referrals campuswide have been cut by more than half, according to Vice Principal Lynn Okamura. There were 251 discipline referrals campuswide last year, down from 670 the previous year, and this year looks even better.
"I was active before, but now I'm real, real active because there's so many things to do now and I like do every one of them. It was boring before."|
"A lot of people don't realize the evidence shows that exercise not only helps you with sedentary-type diseases, it also stimulates cognition and better memory. It's important not only for health but for academic achievement."
Assistant professor of kinesiology and leisure science at UH
"The drop in referrals is just stupendous," she said. "There's such a positive climate on campus now. With all the demands on kids and teachers, you're not going to accomplish anything if people are miserable."
State guidelines call for 45 minutes of physical education class each week for kids in kindergarten through third grade and 55 minutes for fourth- and fifth-graders, according to Donna Ede, physical education resource teacher for the Department of Education. That's far short of the 150 minutes recommended for elementary students by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education.
Three-quarters of Hawaii's public elementary schools do not even have PE teachers. At most schools, the subject is left to the regular classroom teachers, who may not have training in physical education, Ede said.
"Elementary PE is pretty much dependent on the classroom teachers to teach it," said Chuck Morgan, assistant professor of kinesiology and leisure science at the University of Hawaii College of Education. "Unfortunately, in times of high-stakes testing, that's probably the last thing on their minds."
"A lot of people don't realize the evidence shows that exercise not only helps you with sedentary-type diseases, it also stimulates cognition and better memory," he added. "It's important not only for health but for academic achievement."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A group of Makaha Elementary students has fun playing under a large parachute.
Ede emphasized that the department and Board of Education recognize the value of physical education and try to promote it on campus with professional development for teachers.
"It's just working it into the school day is tough," she said. "But they're challenging us to meet this need in more creative ways. At this point, we're not lengthening the school day. How do we get more bang for our buck of activity for the number of minutes we have? That is our challenge."
Makaha Elementary consolidates its recesses to give kids an hourlong break in late morning. If the students eat lunch quickly, they get 40 minutes to play, choosing from various activities spread across the field. They earn beads that can ultimately lead to a two-hour "mega recess" with special games once per quarter.
"I was active before, but now I'm real, real active because there's so many things to do now and I like do every one of them," said Tony Akuna, a green-eyed 10-year-old whose necklace is jammed with beads. "It was boring before."
He volunteers as a "junior leader" for the younger kids, setting up the music box in the middle of the field, for example, or forming teams to twirl a huge rainbow-colored parachute.
Wilson Elementary students show up half an hour early for school to swing on the monkey bars or toss four-pound "medicine balls" at one another under the watchful eye of physical education teacher Shawn Coleman. Both Wilson and Kahuku also offer intramural sports during recess, along with their early morning workouts.
"Kids inherently want to play -- they want to move around," said Coleman. "With all the academic rigor that's put on them now, it's kind of hampering their innate movement."
Kahuku students as young as kindergarten walk and jog 300-yard laps between 7:15 and 7:45 a.m., shooting for grade-by-grade goals with no specific incentive prize. Kahuku's sixth graders led the pack with 2,510 laps during the first quarter of the school year, which ended Oct. 21.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Makaha Elementary students get 40 minutes to play if they eat lunch quickly, getting a choice of activities spread across the field. Tony Akuna has fun while wrapped up in a parachute used in one of the games.
"There have been all shapes and sizes out there walking," said Principal Pauline Masaniai. "It hasn't just been the ones who are usually active. Being active and healthy is very important, and having time to run around and get some of their energy going is important too for being able to go back to class and stay on task."
A statewide "Get Healthy Now" campaign last spring for children in kindergarten through third grade offered pedometers as incentives for kids to exercise at school and at home with their families. It was overwhelmed by the response. About 8,000 children in more than 300 classrooms statewide took part, logging their activities and competing for Jamba Juice and Subway sandwich parties for their classrooms.
"I'd never in my wildest dreams think that many teachers would sign up for that program," said Morgan, the UH professor who developed the curriculum for it. "We actually ran out of pedometers."
Melanie Kosaka, president of First Daughter Media Works, created the campaign with support from HMSA and other sponsors. The Get Healthy Now Web site offers tips and activities for families, lesson plans for teachers, games and fun facts for kids. Kosaka hopes to create a DVD and offer the "Step to a Party" program again in the next school year.
Such efforts to make exercise a habit can have lasting benefits. Fifth-grader Michael Gooch, who wears his hair in a foot-long ponytail, said his active life at Makaha Elementary has spilled over after school as well.
"My auntie and I always go bike riding now," he said. "She used to ask us if we wanted to come, and I wasn't really into it. Then we started exercising in school, and then it became fun and I wanted to do it."
Makaha Elementary School has seen discipline referrals for misbehavior plunge since it started its Recess Activities Program last year. The beefed-up recess gives students more exercise and a chance to have fun with administrators.
*Recess Activities Program begins
**First quarter only
Source: Makaha Elementary School